Elizabeth Penashue begins final walk, denied access to Muskrat Falls
© Derek Montague
The group, led by Elizabeth Penashue, begin their walk on the shores of Sheshatshiu.
It’ll be a bittersweet journey for Elizabeth Penashue. During the cold winter morning of Feb. 18, the respected Innu elder, along with roughly 15 other Innu members, left Sheshatshiu to begin a nearly month-long walk across the Big Land.
For Penashue, who has done this walk almost every year for more than a decade, this will be her last trek on foot through the Labrador country.
The group will be heading through the Mealy Mountains and to their final destination at Pants Lake (Enipeshakimau). The walk’s purpose is to demonstrate Penashue’s, and her people’s dedication and love for the land.
“My walk … it’s very important to respect the land, the water, the animals,” said Penashue.
“We want to show the government how much we respect the land.”
Penashue missed her walk last year, after the death of her longtime husband Francis, who was also highly respected in Sheshatshiu and central Labrador.
The loss of her beloved husband has highly affected Penashue, who is reminded of him everywhere she goes.
“I’m getting old and I miss my husband so much,” said Penashue.
“Everywhere I go … I see me and my husband together … where we walked, where we camped.”
Penashue and her group are pulling their supplies by sled and will get as much food as possible through hunting and gathering.
Walking through the Labrador wilderness and living off the land is a spiritual experience for Penashue, who feels happy and strong on these journeys.
“I’m very proud. I’m very happy. I pray a lot when I walk. I don’t want anything bad to happen when we walk,” said Penashue.
Penashue is also happy to see there are a few young children joining the group this year, accompanied by their parents. The Innu elder believes that not enough young people understand the importance of these journeys.
“The children are very happy playing outside (on our walk). It makes me happy,” noted Penashue.
“It is very important to walk, feel better and strong. The young people today do too much driving.”
But this journey comes with a big disappointment for Penashue. She was hoping to see Muskrat Falls one last time, before it is completely altered by the hydroelectric project, but was denied access to the site by Nalcor.
“I cry in my heart, ‘oh my God look what happened.’ I want to go and see the damage … I’m worried abut the animals,” said Penashue.
“Sometimes I feel the animals talk to me and I hear them say ‘Elizabeth, don’t give up.’”
In an emailed statement to The Labradorian, Karen O’Neill, senior communications advisor for Nalcor Energy, said access for Penashue was denied due to serious safety concerns.
“We are aware that Elizabeth Penashue made a request to a representative with the project to visit the restricted area of the Muskrat Falls construction site. She was looking for access to a very large construction site with many moving vehicles and heavy industrial activity,” read the statement.
“In order to assure the safety of workers, contractors, and the general public, the site is not open for public access while construction is under way. This was recognized by Nalcor and Innu Nation during negotiation of the IBA, and while general access to the area is not permitted, representatives of Innu Nation, including Innu environmental monitors, have access to the site as required in order to ensure compliance with provisions of the IBA.”